We’ve finished our fantastic voyage and now it’s time to move on to another book in my library. As much as I hate to mention him, remember Dr. Wertham from last summer and his belief that you can’t read both comics and books? And his loathing of comic adaptations because the book is superior and stuff? Comics adapting novels is nothing new. Novels adapting comics is a bit rarer but I do own two of those, one of which we’ll be reviewing this week. There have been novels using superheroes both comic-born and created for prose, but usually if you want to see a story arc from comics you just get the trade collections and all is good. But before trades watered down the concept of trade collections and padded out storylines because “everything must be EPIC!!!!!!!!!” a novelization could be a new way to tell the story. And with a story this important to comics history I’m not surprised it was made into a novel.
And one of the writers in that multiple issue storyline is the novelist for this book. Will he change things he didn’t like from the other writers like Isaac Asimov did? We can at least assume this isn’t based on early scripts like most other adaptations, so anyone who has seen the entire story of over forty comics can tell us what was changed between the comics and the novel. However, don’t think that Fredric “book rule, comics drool” Wertham would call this revenge, because he’d only like part of this book, considering the superhero he seemed to hate the most. It’s also tied to four comics I’ve already reviewed, only one of which is part of this story. That should be enough hints for the front page. So if you haven’t guessed, the eleventh installment of Chapter By Chapter is…..
The Death And Life Of Superman
adapted by Roger Stern
Superman dies? Wasn’t Wertham ecstatic when he heard that? Then he returned and Wertham was sad again.
Roger Stern, along with Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway, and Karl Kessel created a comic event that made major headlines. Superman was DC’s flagship before everybody got cynical and switched to the man in the bat costume who is more believable despite knowing every martial art, language, and outdated pop culture reference since the history of time, having tons of gadgets that the Mythbusters can disprove, and would be considered crazy in our world. Also he’s rich and some people hate rich people. Don’t get me wrong, I like Batman–he’ll even show up eventually in this very article series at least twice, including his own comic to novel adaptation and a movie adaptation–but Superman is my favorite superhero. Yet this is the only other prose work I have besides a choose your own adventure type book I reviewed for my other site. According to Wikipedia Stern has only written two other novels, all of which involved Superman.
The story itself, what I know of it from comics I’ve seen, things I’ve heard, and what I remember of this novel, is actually quite good. We’re talking about a story in which we see what the DC Universe and specifically Metropolis would be like without Superman and the inspirations he brought…and how some would manipulate that for their own goals. And it’s not like “Death Of Superman” was the first status quo altering event, but it might be the first “group event”, an event sticking to one group of comics, in this case Superman. There are people who would write this off as a publicity stunt since we all knew Superman wasn’t going to stay dead (and this wasn’t even during one of the legal pushes by the Siegel and/or Shuster estates). But while it might have been, the idea came from wanting to give Superman a decent physical challenge.
I said in one of my Art Soundoff videos that you don’t have to kill Superman to beat him. And usually Superman gets immunity for being the hero of the story. However, all of Superman’s foes work by outsmarting Superman or playing on his morals and his friends. Doomsday was someone besides Darkseid who could stand toe to toe in an all-out fistfight. It’s a challenge that Superman rarely had. And it led to seeing how the world reacted to Superman not being available. Usually when Superman disappears it’s temporary and the story is focused on where Kal-El has gone. But now you have Superman out of the story entirely. The focus is now on Lois, who has to deal with the loss of her husband and still not telling anyone that he won’t be among those rescued from the rubble for fear of post-death revenge on her or Clark’s parents (who were both alive at this point), on Jimmy, who just lost his best friend and had to photograph him dying, and on the new arrivals to Metropolis. But I’ll say more about this in an aftermath review.
In the acknowledgements Stern adds a thanks to George Reeves, the actor who played Superman in the first TV series. This was how he came in to the Man Of Steel. I thought that was a nice addition beyond the usual thanks to people who got him into writing. He also credits the other writes as well as the pencilers, inkers, colorists, and even letterers. That was really nice of him. The writers I expected but not credits for the art teams in a prose novel. It shows they were just as much a part of the storytelling as the writers. I like that.
By the way, books that will be covered by the 29 chapters of this book, plus a short prologue and epilogue I’ll discuss during chapters 1 and 29 respectively, obviously include the ones that handled “Death Of Superman”, “Funeral For A Friend”, and “Reign Of The Supermen”:
- Superman: The Man Of Steel #17-26 (1992-93)
- Superman #73-82 (1992-93)
- Adventures Of Superman #496-505 (1992-93)
- Action Comics #683-92 [that’s how it’s numbered in the novel] (1992-93)
- Supergirl & Team Luthor #1(1993)
But there’s also a few other issues listed that I guess are for flavor and those unfamiliar with the post-Crisis DC Universe:
- Man Of Steel #1-6 (1986)
- Justice League America #69 (1992, which I think includes the League fighting Doomsday upon his arrival)
- Action Comics #650 (1990)
Then for some reason Star-Spangled Comics #7, from 1942, pre-Crisis DCU, is here as well. I wonder how that’s going to fit into this version since I didn’t think that story, whatever it is, would even be in continuity at this point.
The chapters have no titles, just numbers. However, the book is split into three sections for “Death Of Superman” (or “Doomsday” in this book), “Funeral For A Friend”, and “Reign Of The Supermen”. This will only affect the “next time” part of my review. As you’re about to see. Next week we begin with the prologue and chapter one.
Next time: Doomsday part 1